January 17, 2021

Indian online travel agency Cleartrip on Wednesday said it is opting out of Facebook’s Internet.org platform.

In a blog post Cleartrip has reacted to the latest debate on Internet freedom in India – of whether Internet.org, like the Airtel Zero marketing platform, violates the principle of net neutrality in India. The company says it has been questioned at various points in the past couple of weeks about its stance on net neutrality, and its announcement on Wednesday is meant to be a clarification.

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Cleartrip specifies the Internet.org partnership had no “revenue arrangement” involved, and that it was neither paid nor asked to pay to participate in the program. It added that it doesn’t make any money out of Internet.org either.

The blog post goes on to say that since there was no transaction between Facebook and its partners, the company “genuinely believed [it was] contributing to a social cause.” Only the recent debate over net neutrality in India made it rethink its position, and realise that with the Internet.org partnership it might be “influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them,” something it says is against the company’s philosophy of being a “simple search service”.

The online travel agency’s blog post goes on to say it was “impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived)”, leading to it quitting the Internet.org program.

Other Internet.org partners in India, including NDTV, have also announced their decision to leave Internet.org, citing similar concerns.

On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clarified his stance on net neutrality in relation to Internet.org zero-rating program, saying the two can coexist. Zuckerberg’s reaction on Tuesday was of course of particular interest in India right now, with the net neutrality debate raging, and the Facebook CEO made the distinction between zero-rating programs in developed nations and emerging nations without widespread data connectivity.

The Facebook CEO said “For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always better than having no ability to connect and share at all.” He added that “programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations.”

Internet.org was launched in India for Reliance Communications’ subscribers back in February. The Android app, aimed at low income and rural users, offers free access to more than 30 Web services, including job listings, healthcare and education sites, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging services.